Category Archives: Photography

Underwater Photography on Bonaire Through the Lens of Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald, a long-time visitor to Bonaire, shares his tips on how to perfect your underwater photography.

For decades, Bonaire has been a mecca for underwater photographers. The island’s teeming reefs, along with its marine inhabitants, offer the visiting diver myriad opportunities for excellent underwater images.

Michael McDonald is one such underwater photographer, completing his 13th annual visit to Bonaire with a three-week dive vacation in June 2017. Michael has been diving since 1971 when he was certified at the age of 15, and he has been accompanied on his dives by his camera ever since then. He learned his craft with the original Nikonos underwater camera produced by Nikon way before the era of “point-and-shoot.”

Photographing the Wreck of the Hilma Hooker from a different perspective.

The Wreck of the Hilma Hooker is one of Bonaire’s most popular dive sites and is always a favorite with underwater photographers (learn more about this wreck’s history). Many divers who visit the dive site via shore, versus those arriving via boat, zoom right over the reef to the wreck. However, the reef, part of Bonaire’s double-reef system, offers plentiful opportunities for creativity.

Finding a fresh perspective on an often-photographed iconic wreck is difficult, but Michael found a new way to interpret the Hilma Hooker. He answers some key questions about how he got this shot!

Divers swim between an orange elephant ear sponge and the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, on Bonaire.

Q: What camera setup was used?

In this excellent image, Michael used his standard camera setup, a Canon 5D in a Subal CD5 housing with a Subal Wide Angle port. His lens of choice was a Sigma 15mm 1:2.8 EXDG Fisheye. His dual strobe setup is with Sea&Sea YS-D2s on 6- and 9-inch arms (15-23 cm) per side, which help to give a naturally illuminated look to close objects.

Q: How did the divers manage to pose so well?

Michael’s main “model” closest to the camera is an underwater photographer herself, and she very graciously poses for his images. Having a knowledge of underwater photography assists models with getting themselves positioned properly. Michael’s buddy is amazingly neutrally buoyant.  What he commonly does is to look ahead of where she is swimming, to identify potential subjects. He then moves forward quickly, ahead of her, to compose the shot highlighting the closer features of the image–in this case, the orange elephant ear sponge–keeping in mind a clean, uncluttered background. He then waits for her to swim into the image.

Based on Michael’s position, his model knows where to position herself and then Michael starts shooting, moving his model up/down/in-out/left-right with finger pointing. The other two divers in the group “just happened” into this image, as generally, they tended to be more in front of the group.

Q:  How was the light balanced properly, getting the light-absorbing orange sponge beautifully illuminated, but also with a rich, blue background and the wreck in ambient light?

As soon as Michael is in place, he tries to immediately get about five or six shots of the main subject, the orange sponge. This allows him to quickly rearrange the strobes, if necessary, to eliminate shadows and give the complete presentation of the main subject.

At this point, he can check the “blueness” of the water and the background, to ascertain if he needs to change the f-stop to make it lighter or darker. Since the light of his strobes will only reach as far as the sponge, it is the f-stop of his camera which will determine how cool or warm the water will appear.  Shutter speed is mostly irrelevant because the use of underwater strobes will freeze any action.

Q:  What are the camera settings used to get this photograph?

The camera setting was ISO 160 with f/5.6 at 1/60 speed. Michael’s strobes are generally set to a mid-range, unless there is a really light background, such as sand, or if it’s very dark, like the underneath of the wreck. The dual strobes were fairly equally spaced apart and behind the lens port, which provide full illumination without harsh shadows. With the full-frame feature of the Canon 5D coupled with the 15 mm wide-angle lens, Michael estimates he was about eight to ten inches (20-25 cm) away from the sponge. One can see the incredible wide angle it provided!  This manner of shooting is called “close focus wide angle” because it focuses upon a subject very close to the len, but yet offers sweeping views.

Of course, it goes without saying that any underwater photographer who gets close to the reef must employ excellent buoyancy skills to avoid harming any of corals, sponges, or marine creatures living within them. Michael’s years of diving experience have taught him how to do so without causing harm. Less experienced underwater photographers should not attempt such shots until they have attained the proper buoyancy skills.

Q: Is the time of day a factor in getting stellar images?

Bonaire's Salt Pier is a popular dive site.The time of day could be a factor, especially for wide-angle photography. On Bonaire, if one wants to shoot a wide-angle image with the sun in the background, such as with the images of Salt Pier, it’s imperative that the dive be done in the afternoon, which is best between 2:00 and 5:00 PM, after the sun has moved to a western position in the sky. This allows a photographer to get the sun bloom but still shoot with an upward angle, which always helps to keep the background uncluttered.

For the Hilma Hooker, Michael was at about 45 feet/14 meters of depth (the wreck sits in about 100 feet/30 meters of water) and shooting with an upward angle. The key for timing this shot actually is less sun-related. It is more important to get to the dive site early–Michael suggests by 7:30 AM at the latest–to beat the crowds that can come later. The visibility will always decrease with additional divers in the water, so to get this type of visibility into an image, shoot early.

Q:  Why return year after year to dive and photograph Bonaire’s reefs?

Michael tells us why he returns so often to Bonaire:

“There are two huge draws for me to Bonaire. The first is the amazing reef life – I so love the macro life (which, unfortunately, I’m not sure many people see as they go blazing across the reef).

“The second is the shore diving – I’m diving with people I know and trust in a very small group at our own schedule. I don’t know of any other place that has that combination.”

— Michael McDonald

About Michael McDonald.

Mike McDonald, returning Bonaire visitor and underwater photographer.

Michael’s professional life was with the United States Air Force and as a Montana Air National Guard officer. He flew an F16 for 28 years and was an instructor pilot for over twenty years.

Michael retired in 2012 after 38 years as a Colonel. But he certainly still keeps busy, as currently, he is a full-time graduate student, working on his second Master’s Degree in history.  He hopes to be accepted into a Ph.D. program soon.

Michael has about 1000 dives under his weight belt; he holds his basic certification along with nitrox certification.  Although he has never gone further with his diving education, he says he tends to be the leader in many of the group’s dives–perhaps a throwback to his military training?

View more of Michael McDonald’s underwater photography from his recent Bonaire visit.


We hope that you are inspired by Michael’s beautiful underwater photography and that it helps to realize that every diver can aspire to do the same!  Be sure to ask your favorite dive operator on Bonaire for tips and assistance when you are next on Bonaire.

(Source:  Bonaire Insider Reporter)

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Susan Davis, Bonaire InsiderSusan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a PADI Master Instructor, and an underwater and topside photographer. She also enjoys writing for The Bonaire Insider tourism news blog. 




The 2018 Calendars are Here Featuring Bonaire’s Underwater and Avian Worlds

This year’s calendars feature Bonaire’s underwater world, as well as the avian world of birds.


It’s September, and that means it is time to start thinking of 2018!  For Bonaire Insider readers, or their Bonairephyle friends, who wish to keep Bonaire in their hearts all year long, there is no better way than to display one of these nature-related Bonaire 2018 wall calendars.  These calendars make the best stocking-stuffers!

Ellen Muller’s Underwater Bonaire 2018.

For those who just can’t get enough of Bonaire’s marine creatures, InfoBonaire is highlighting Ellen Muller’s Underwater Bonaire 2018 Calendar.  Ellen not only takes stunning underwater images, but she manages to find the un-findable!  These calendars actually become collector’s items, because the images are just too wonderful to throw out at the end of the year.

Learn how to order your copy of Ellen’s Underwater Bonaire 2018 Calendar.

The Pure Bonaire 2018 Calendar

To celebrate Bonaire’s membership in the Caribbean Birding Trail, the 2018 Pure Bonaire Calendar is featuring the wide diversity of birds that can be discovered on Bonaire. Most of the various birds illustrated throughout the calendar can be easily seen when traveling around the island.

The Pure Bonaire 2018 Calendar can be ordered individually or in any quantity online, and the calendar normally ships within five business days of placing an order.

Buy the Pure Bonaire 2018 Calendar now.

(Source:  Ellen Muller, Pure Bonaire)

Subscribe to the free Bonaire Insider newsletter:

Susan Davis, Bonaire InsiderSusan Davis has been living on Bonaire for over 25 years. She is a PADI Master Instructor, and an underwater and topside photographer. She also enjoys writing for The Bonaire Insider tourism news blog. 



Drones on Bonaire–Think Twice Before Packing Your Drone

Drones on Bonaire?  Well, not really.


Bonaire International Airport recently published some information regarding the use of drones on Bonaire as regulated by The Netherlands.  These remotely piloted vehicles are becoming very popular for aerial photography, and so some passengers may want to bring their drones to Bonaire for their vacation.  However, you may wish to think twice before you pack your drone in your suitcase.

RPAS – Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (Drones)

Drones are not allowed in Bonaire's prohibited airspace.This data provides information about the use of drones for either recreational or professional purposes in The Netherlands, which includes the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba.

The airspace above the BES islands (Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) is prohibited airspace or controlled airspace (control zone ⇒ CTR or aerodrome traffic zone ⇒ ATZ). It is not allowed to fly here with aircraft, including remotely piloted aircraft or model aircraft, without the permission of ATC or AFIS.  At this moment, ATC and AFIS are not able to grant any permits. So please, leave your drone at home or keep it safely stored in your suitcase during your stay.  Enjoy Bonaire the old-fashioned way, on the ground!

Bonaire's Designated Prohibited Airspace

Click map to view an enlarged version.

More detailed information about our airspace:

The Flamingo CTR at Bonaire is visible on the map at right. It is the large area with the mark 25 NM TNCB ARP. The area TNP-1 and TNP-2 are prohibited for all aircraft. The space between these two areas is only available for manned aircraft with a clearance of ATC.

Additional information can be found on the website of Bonaire International Airport, also commonly known as Flamingo Airport.

(Source:  Inspectie Leefomgeving en Transport via Bonaire International Airport)



The Candy Striped Crab, a New Marine Species Discovered on Bonaire by Ellen Muller

The Candy Striped Crab, discovered and documented by Ellen Muller, has been officially listed as a new species.

Those who think they have seen it all while diving on Bonaire, they need to re-think that! Talented Bonaire photographer, Ellen Muller, has another new marine species under her weightbelt, with the official recognition of Pylopaguropsis mollymullerae, or otherwise now known as the Candy Striped Hermit.

Ellen’s first new species was a nudibranch.

In August 2007, the Bonaire Insider published an article about a new nudibranch species discovered in Bonaire by Ellen which was later officially added as a new species.  The nudibranch was named Trapania bonellenae, a combination of Bonaire and Ellen.

Ellen’s latest discovery, a new crustacean.

The Candy Striped Crab is a new species found on Bonaire by Ellen Muller.

The Candy Striped Crab is a new species found on Bonaire by Ellen Muller. Pictured here with a Flaming Reef Lobster.

And now, the Candy Striped Hermit has been officially confirmed.  Ellen tell us this about her latest discovery:

On a night dive, in December of 2015, I took some photographs of a Flaming Reef Lobster (Enoplometopus antillensis). Back home, when I looked at the photos on my computer, I noticed an unusual looking, extremely small hermit crab with coloring unlike any that I had seen before. I sent the photo to a crustacean expert, Arthur Anker, who suggested that I forward the photo to Rafael Lemaitre who specializes in hermit crabs. Neither had seen anything like it but the detail in the photo was too poor to make a positive identification. I was told to try and get some better close up photos.


Ellen thought to herself that this would be an impossible task, akin to finding a needle in a haystack.  However, she went back to the area where she photographed the lobster, and, lo and behold, she found three of the hermit crabs and got some decent photos and she sent them back to Rafael.

His response?

“This is amazing, shows how little we know of the Caribbean. I still can’t be sure, but even with your earlier photo I had the suspicion it might be a species of Pylopaguropsis, of which several species in the Pacific have similar striking color patterns. There are 16 described species worldwide, but only one is known from the western Atlantic (and it is not that one on just color differences). The species in this genus tend to have very massive right chelipeds, with a flattened chela, much like it appears to be in the photos you just sent. All subject to confirmation by examination of specimens.”

Ellen continued with the proper protocol for confirming her new species.  After obtaining the proper paperwork, a few specimens were sent to the Smithsonian Institution, and it was confirmed that these hermit crabs are indeed a new species. For those who enjoy learning the science behind this, the scientific article can be found here.

The crab is named for her granddaughter, Molly.

As the discoverer of the new hermit crab species, Ellen gets to name it.  She has dubbed this crab Pylopaguropsis mollymullerae after her granddaughter in the hope that Molly will continue the tradition of celebrating and protecting the amazing diversity of marine life in Bonaire’s waters.

Ellen would like to give special thanks to Rafael Lemaitre, who was so enthusiastic about describing this beautiful little crab. Thanks to VIP Diving, Frank van Slobbe, Paul Hoetjes and CIEE’s Rita Peachey and Amy Wilde for their help with this new species.

Congratulations, Ellen, keep it up!  Now, divers have a new marine species to find on their next Bonaire dive trip.

(Source:  Ellen Muller, images and video by Ellen Muller)


Vote Now in Carib Inn’s Annual Photo Contest

The Carib Inn Photo Contests.

It was twelve short months ago when the Bonaire Insider announced that Carib Inn would commence with weekly photo contests.  Guests could submit their favorite images from their time on Bonaire.

Carib Inn's Annual Photo Contest

A great prize!

The photo contests proved to be a popular way to share great Bonaire images, and, now that the twelve months are up, it’s time to pick the Best of the Best!  The overall lucky winner will receive a 6-day shore diving package for two persons at Carib Inn.

Help choose the winner.

And now, Carib Inn would like your help in choosing a winner!  Simply click here to view the competition images.  Hover over your favorite image, and click on the star to vote.  Only one vote per person, and the contest is over on October 31st, 2016.  Visit back often to see how the votes are being tallied.

Vote Now!


(Source:  Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn)


The 2017 Bonaire Calendars Are Now Available

The end of the year is fast-approaching, so it’s now time to look at procuring your 2017 Bonaire calendar.  Many visitors to Bonaire, who wish to spend additional time on the island, do so by living vicariously through the Bonaire calendars, as they provide a window into life on island every day of the year.

There are two different Bonaire calendars available for 2017.

This year we are highlighting two different calendars, one for landlubbers, and one for the dive fanatics.


The Pure Bonaire 2017 Calendar

The 2017 Pure Bonaire Wall Calendar

For the landlubbers, the Pure Bonaire 2017 Calendar features photography encompassing a wide variety of the Bonaire lifestyle…….from its nature, to sports, and to the island’s culture and people. This premium calendar features 13.5” x 19” sized pages, coil binding, white interior paper (100# weight), and full-color interior ink.  Bonaire’s holidays for the coming year are noted on the calendar.  It’s the perfect gift for Bonaire aficionados to give to themselves, or as holiday gifts for any Bonaire lover!  The cost of this deluxe calendar is $25.00 and it can be ordered individually or in any quantity online, and the calendar normally ships within five days of placing an order.  See all the monthly views of the Pure Bonaire calendar.

Ellen Muller’s Underwater Bonaire 2017 Calendar

2017 Underwater Photography Calendar by Ellen Muller

For those who just can’t get enough of Bonaire’s marine creatures, we are also highlighting Ellen Muller’s Underwater Bonaire 2017 Calendar.  Ellen not only takes stunning underwater images, but she manages to find the un-findable! Ellen’s 2017 version contains twelve new and unusual underwater photos, all taken right here on Bonaire, and beautifully printed on heavy card-stock. Each photo is approximately 8.5 x 11 inches in size (21.5 x 28 cm) so when fully open, the calendar measures 17 x 11 inches (43 x 28 cm).  A limited number of calendars are available on Bonaire now, with more arriving on October 1. The calendars are available at Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn and the price is $20.00 per calendar (cash only please) while supplies last. Calendars are also available in the U.S. and Canada by mail, with two shipping windows (late September or late November) before the holidays, shipping costs will be added to the total price.  Please e-mail for additional information.

(Source:  Bruce Bowker’s Carib Inn, Pure Bonaire Calendar)



Bonaire Dive Week is in Full Swing!

bonaire_dive_week_03If Bonaire’s diving visitors haven’t been keeping up, it’s time to get with the program while the Bonaire Dive Week continues in full swing.

bonaire_dive_week_02Today, photographer Casper Douma started the morning off with an underwater photography seminar for all Dive Week participants, covering such important photographic elements as aperture and shutter speed, as well as composition.  Then it was off to 1000 Steps to try to capture the perfect turtle image.

For those not on Bonaire, you can still actively follow the event.  Enjoy underwater live streaming video & SKYPE during Dive Friends Bonaire’s Underwater Cleanup on Sunday, May 22 at 2:00 PM (AST).  Dive Friend’s general manager, Carolyn Caporusso will be talking about the history of these cleanups.  Contact Dive Friends for more information.

View all the upcoming events for May and June.

(Source:  Bonaire Insider Reporter, Bonaire Dive Week, Dive Friends Bonaire)



Getting the Shot–Eye on Elly Albers


Earlier this year, we profiled the stunning underwater photography of Ellen Muller, and this series continues to feature Bonaire’s exceptional amateur nature photographers with our Eye on Elly Albers.

Elly was born in 1968 in a small town in the north of Holland, but she made her home on Bonaire over 25 years ago when she was only 21 years old.  Back then, she did a variety of jobs, from managing the Animal Shelter in its early years, to becoming the director of a children’s home.  It was in 2004 that she purchased and has since managed the Mangrove Info Center in Lac Bay.

Elly’s father was an amateur photographer and his favorite subjects were people.  Although Elly followed in the photographic footsteps of her father, she found she was fascinated instead with animal photography.  While growing up, she would use her father’s hand-me-down cameras and go to the local zoo to shoot.

“Animals and nature have always been my biggest passion in my life. I found my real home near Bonaire’s mangrove forests, as it’s the perfect place to experience nature,” Elly told The Bonaire Insider.  She continued, “Plus, it’s the perfect location for photographic inspiration.”

Although Elly will shoot a variety of Bonaire’s animal and nature subjects, her true calling is in avion photography.  With her home and business at Lac Bay, Elly has ample opportunities to photograph many of Bonaire’s bird species, especially the iconic flamingo.  She is also becoming very well known for her images of chicks in or near their nests.

She has employed a number of different cameras and lenses over the years, but her favorite setup is still Nikon.  We hope you enjoy her photography as much as we do.  Click on any of the images below to open the lightbox.

View additional photo galleries on InfoBonaire.

(Source:  Bonaire Insider Reporter)




Bonaire Dive Week is Coming May 17-24, 2016

ProfielfotoBDWBonaire has become a mecca for all sorts of water sports in recent years, including windsurfing, kiteboarding, and snorkeling.  But it was SCUBA diving that put Bonaire on the map as “the” tropical destination to visit.  This May, all divers on Bonaire have the opportunity to celebrate their passion, when the Bonaire Dive Week takes place May 17-24, 2016.

Bonaire Dive week is an excellent opportunity to hone those diving skills, expand your knowledge, and just have some good ol’ diving fun.  It doesn’t matter what diving experience or skill level you are at, everyone is welcome to join for festivities, lectures, workshops, and other activities.

diveweekThe week will provide the opportunity to try new gear, as well as attend a wide range of hot diving topics in lectures, workshops, and master classes.  There will be opportunities to meet with many of the nature organizations on the island, including STINAPA and Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire, as well as learn new skills in either underwater photography and fish ID.

But you can’t spend every minute underwater, so there are plenty of above-water activities planned as well.  To make it even easier on the wallet, several resorts and properties have joined in to provide very special rates for this very special week.

For those that have already made their arrangements for a visit during this time in May, there is still a chance to take part in all the week’s events.  There is a limited number of tickets, and the cost is only € 99.00 per participant for entry into all events.

For more information, visit the event web site by clicking here.  Do note that events will be conducted in either Dutch, or English, or a combination of both, depending upon the needs of the participants.

And, check out all the upcoming Bonaire events on the Calendar of Events (Source:  Bonaire Dive Week)

Getting the Shot: Eye on Ellen Muller

profile2Bonaire has a wealth of excellent nature photographers, both professional and amateur.  This year, the Bonaire Insider will profile some of these amazing amateur photographers and showcase their work.  Our first resident photographer is Ellen Muller.

Ellen moved from the United States to Bonaire in 1980. She didn’t pick up an underwater camera until 2001 when she became instantly hooked on underwater photography. Being able to dive almost daily in Bonaire provides many opportunities to document the amazing diversity of marine life in Bonaire’s waters. Her passion is being able to share with others, through her underwater photography, some of the incredible underwater creatures she is fortunate enough to encounter on a regular basis. Ellen has photographed many unusual, rare and unique creatures and recorded previously unknown behaviors, making an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the fascinating underwater world.profb2

Occasionally, she will turn her camera topside where she enjoys sharing her passion for photography with her 6-year old granddaughter, Molly.

Ellen is currently using a Canon G16 and Canon housing WP-DC52 with add-on Inon close up lenses UCL 165 & 330. For her topside photography, she employs a Canon SX50.

Ellen publishes a wonderful calendar each year of her exceptional photography.  Check out her current calendar!

View more of Ellen’s stunning underwater photography.

(Source:  Bonaire Insider Reporter)



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